TAoN #25: Take a useless photograph
Plus: What's wrong with this picture?, and a new icebreaker
The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy In the Everyday offers exercises, prompts, provocations, games and things you can actually do to build attention muscles, stave off distraction, pick up on what everybody else overlooked, and experience the joy of noticing. Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Knopf | All purpose link for readers in UK/Europe or US
This newsletter offers related news and ideas and noteworthy projects that have come along since I finished the book.
**IMPORTANT**: I’ve switched from Tinyletter to Substack for sending out these newsletters! Tinyletter has a subscriber limit, and I was getting perilously close to it. I hope this new service works and causes no inconvenience. Subscribe or unsubscribe at: robwalker.substack.com. I hope you will forgive any errors made in this transition! If any concerns (for example you tried to unsubscribe from the Tinyletter version but you’re still getting this one) reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Don’t worry, next time I’ll get back to including links to nice things people have said about the book ;)
Take A Useless Photo. Then another. And another.
Photo by Camilo José Vergara, c. 2000.
More years ago than I care to specify, I wrote a piece for New York about Camilo José Vergara, who had just published The New American Ghetto. I loved his work, which involved photographing the same places repeatedly, over a period of many years, documenting the changes. Previously he’d pursued more traditional street photography, but … well, here’s an excerpt from my article:
“I saw myself at a dead end, retracing the steps of many others.” He started on his masters in sociology at Columbia, and … his work changed. “I try to date it to the first useless picture,” he says.
“In other words, a picture that, unless someone needed it for insurance purposes or simply to demonstrate the fact that a particular building exists, one that nobody would have any use for whatsoever.”
Over time, his “useless” photographs have become more and more invaluable. He received a MacArthur, and has published many books and articles.
The idea of the “useless” photo stuck with me, and I almost included it in The Art of Noticing. The value of Camilo’s work just builds and builds over time. Check out this recent example, published by Bloomberg: His series of photos taken from 1994 to 2019 of a spot in Harlem that used to be the Lenox Lounge (where Billie Holiday performed) and is today a Wells Fargo branch.
Amazing. And there’s no shortcut to this sort of thing. It takes years of patient dedication, paying considered attention to something everybody else just took for granted.
Check out more of Camilo’s work here.
What Is Wrong With This Picture?
The other day I listened to a great Studio 360 podcast piece about The B-52s. I have a lot to say about the B-52s, but not right now. Right now all I want to say that I noticed the picture that Studio 360 used on its site is … curious.
Look at Fred’s right arm. Note that it is actually Kate’s left arm. What is going on there? And now look at Cindy’s left arm. Doesn’t it seem like it’s actually bent, and that the hand is all wrong and doesn’t belong there, and why would she have such an unusually long arm?
Is this all intentional pre-Photoshop trickery? Or glitches? Or what? I ran a Google image search looking to see if anybody had addressed this, and found nothing. Where is Errol Morris when you need him! What do you think, is this just a messed-up picture, or were they having fun with us? If you have a theory (or if you are friends with anyone in the B-52s) give me (or them) a shout! It’s really bugging me!
[Thx to E for thoughtful consultation on this matter.]
Icebreaker Of The Week
Today's icebreaker comes from artist Amy C. Evans:
Who is your pick for the most underrated character in a movie or TV show?
I asked Amy for her answer, but she wouldn’t tell me! What’s yours?
Anyway I’m still working through the icebreaker backlog, but as always:
Send your favorite icebreaker (whether you made it up or got it elsewhere) to email@example.com
Okay, that's it! As always, I value your feedback (suggestions, critiques, positive reinforcement, constructive insults, etc.), as well as your tips or stories or personal noticing rituals (and your icebreakers): firstname.lastname@example.org.